25 December 2012

Froehliche Weihnachten

I hope everyone is having a safe and Merry Christmas.

After all the panic and scrambling, we've finally slid into Christmas.  I'd love to say we've been taking it easy and got all the baking done and gone for a quiet (but cold) bike ride, but that ain't true.  For one thing, it's 76 degrees down here.  No white Christmas this year.    

I've been working on various projects/problems leading up to the holidays.  Some people have asked if I am taking off time over the holidays, but I'm not.  Worked all of last week and and will work most of this week as well.  This puts a slight damper on the holiday mood (at least for me).  I've even had a conference call with a supplier booked for yesterday morning (Christmas Eve) to address some crisis.  I guess it's my turn in the barrel.  I'm sort of paying for that 10 day boat trip in November.  Kinda reminds me of when I was in the Army and pulled duty for Thanksgiving AND Christmas back in Germany.  I got tagged for that plum assignment because we were a young newlywed couple and had no kids.  

Good news is that the newlyweds came home Saturday night.  They are home for a few days so we will get to enjoy the holidays with them.  It is getting harder each year on how to coordinate the family gatherings.  With the various new families branching out, we are looking at 3 or 4 Christmas celebrations.  One for us, one with the daughter-in-law's family, one with my parents/brother, one with my wife's parents.  We tried to gather everyone over here a few times over they years, but with the new additions, it has turned into a regular circus.  Still, will be good to share some Xmas joy with all the parents, brothers, sisters (in-laws), children, nieces, nephews, etc.  This morning, the kids are over at the DIL's parents to celebrate Christmas with her sister and long time family friends.  We get our turn this afternoon.  I've invited my parents over as well.  My brother had his annual gathering this morning across town at his house with the entire crew (15+) which includes the new grandchild.  They do an early opening with a breakfast casserole as the main dish.  Since my crew is older and gets up later, we tend to do a later (2nd shift) event.  I find it's getting harder each year to coordinate all this hoopla, but somehow we will manage. 

Merry Christmas to all my friends out there and I'm looking forward to another great year. 

Doggy Christmas!
And, no, these are not my two mutts.

23 December 2012


Nope.  Still not done with my shopping.  I am still hunting for the right gifts for the nephews, parents, but keep striking out.  Spent most of yesterday searching for ideas, but kept coming up empty.  I even made the trek to the mall yesterday for several hours but only came away with something for momma thanks to James Avery.  I will be out again today to try and tie this one off.      

In interim, to all the hard working moms out there cooking and wrapping for the holidays, this one's for you...

19 December 2012

New hope (revised)

I've been a rather quiet lately.  I am still shocked/horrified/depressed/outraged/sickened over the tragedy in Connecticut and I really haven’t found anything worth writing about that seems important.  I applaud others that have been able to carry on and keep posting, but, right now, my heart just isn't into it.  It’s hard to really be in the Christmas spirit this year, but I am working at it.  My heart and prayers go out to the families in Newtown.  

I have to remember for all the really bad things that happen out there, there are still a few miracles to be grateful for.  In the midst of all this, a small ray of sunshine has shown through the darkness.  My nephew got married last spring out in East Texas (the Hunting Lease Wedding).  The young couple just gave birth this morning to a 9 lbs, 3 oz boy named Austin Garrett.  Momma and son are doing ok.  The dad has always been a bit questionable.   

Another agg unleashed upon the world.  

14 December 2012

Run for your life

I've said it before - when I run 5 or 10ks, I normally run for a reason (or at least a cool shirt).  I've done a prostate cancer run, a breast cancer run, dog/cat cancer run, Humane Society run, SPCA run, a Pumpkin run, rodeo run, several Turkey trots, a New Year's Resolution run, and even a German langlauf.  Whether it's a Chocolate run or dirty girl run, there is always a run to be made and a cause to be supported.  I have considered doing a mud run, but that is pretty gnarly and I really would prefer doing it with a friend (more fun when you share the trail).  I was looking over some of the upcoming runs as a tune up for my upcoming 1/2 marathon in January and this one peaked my interest:    



I am so tempted.  If I wasn't already tied up this weekend and it wasn't in Austin, I would seriously consider doing this one.  

30 days and counting...

13 December 2012

Cruise epilog

By now, if you ain't sick of hearing about my danged cruise, you should be.  We are finally getting back to some sense of normal around here.  Hard to be gone a weekend without falling far behind in normal chores.  Make it a 10 day trip and we are really out of sorts.  We got back to a ton of laundry, a pile of mail, several hundred e-mails, no Thanksgiving dinner plans, and two very happy dogs.

When prepping for the trip, I did a lot of up front planning/logistics.  I stopped the paper, stopped the mail.  Set the alarm, turned on various timers, gave out emergency contacts to family, secured the fortress.  One thing that worried me the most this time was what to do with the children.  When we did our first cruise in '08, Shadow was still here.  He was old and had a lot of issues, but we didn't feel he would put up with a kennel stay for a week, so we left him at home and arranged for someone to come by 2-3 times a day to take care of him.  Let him out, walk him, feed him.  He was over 12 years old and one of our biggest fears was that he might pass away while we were gone and we didn't want the woman taking care of him to stress out.  He did ok, but wasn't happy with us being gone for a week (sulked for a few days).  

The next long term trip was a week in Seattle visiting my son in 2009.  At the time, we had just had Grayson for under a year and I was uncertain what to do with him.  At the recommendation of one of the GBGRR group, I talked with a former member, Mary Beth about taking care of Grayson for a week.  She had lost her Golden a year prior and wasn't ready to take on another fuzzy mutt at this time but was happy to keep an eye on my furball for the week.  Grayson wasn't sure about the new deal, but they did work it out and both survived the week without any drama.  As a matter of fact, I think Gray might have worn her down a bit.  After keeping Grayson for a week, Mary Beth wound up adopting not one but two Goldens and is fostering another one (temporary basis).  

For this trip, I had two Goldens to deal with and a longer time out of pocket.  I did not want to board them in the kennel.  Claire would not be happy with me at all.  As for keeping them at home like with Shadow, I felt that 10 days was too long and they would get bored/depressed.  Sticking these two into someone else's home seemed to be a lot more of a burden than with one dog, so I was running out of options.  Someone in the club recommended a camp northeast of town called Golden Retriever Camp.  Sort of a day camp for dogs.  The guy up there has a small ranch and boards Goldens and miniature horses, llamas.  I had scoped out the place a month ago to see if Chaos and Pandemonium would fit in up there.  Turns out they fit in with the tribe real well.  Not sure how he does it.  When we visited his place in October, he had 14 dogs at the time.  On the day I took my two up the day before we flew out of town to let them get use to the system. At that time, he had only 10 dogs but was expecting a few more visitors.  He boasts that a few years back over Christmas, they were up to 24 dogs.  Crazy, but he can handle them. No fights, no drama (well, not much).  About half the dogs are older Goldens that are content to hang out on the porch and enjoy the sun.  When I dropped dropped them off, Grayson was the typical kid, running around and sniffing everything and exploring - enjoying the moment.  Claire, the elder one of the two, was a bit more circumspect.  She checked out the new place and new dogs, but all the while she kept her eyes on me.  She's a smart girl and I feel she knew what was coming.  She knew that something was amiss.  

How can you leave me?
I felt bad/guilty about leaving them there, but they were in good hands and would get lots of attention.  When we came back to get them, they were overjoyed to see us.  Claire lumbered out to the gate to greet us like a kid coming home from daycare.  Got them a few french fries as treats and, by the time we got home, all was forgiven.  The people said Claire and Grayson go along well and there were no problems, so the camp was a definite success.  

On my way back home, I had spotted several interesting restaurants in the small town that I wanted to try.  One was a nice BBQ joint called Straight Off The Road BBQ.  Had to stop off to give it a try.  Nice fairly new place, clean, good staff with some generous portions and a ton of trophies for the county fair BBQ contest - all good signs.  I had to try the pulled pork sandwich and it was amazing.  Juicy, lots of meat, and with a sweet/tangy BBQ sauce that really tasted great.  Definitely worth a 2nd trip to me.  Unfortunately, I tried to take momma there when we picked up the dogs, but it was closed on Monday.  Bummer.  It's probably a good thing I did not try to scope out the place beforehand.  I looked it up on Yelp afterwards and some folks panned the place they were not as impressed with the brisket or ribs.  I would tend to disagree as my sandwich was great, but maybe I hit it at the right time.  Regardless, I would still be willing to give it a try again if it was a bit closer.   

11 December 2012

Wrap up

After 8 days of plying the southern waters, it was time to wrap this thing up and head on back home.  Two full days of sailing in open waters as we cruised up past Cuba and back to Florida.  Time to relax and reflect on where we've been, what we've seen.  Time to take another run on the deck.  Time to kick back and enjoy the moment.  Time for another round of Mexican train.  Time for one last trip to the lounges.  Time for one last show.  Time to hit the casino one last time.  Time for another over-the-top dessert.  Time to buy some of the millions of pictures they take of you every time you step off the boat or tour some place.  Time to enjoy a scotch on observation deck in the moonlight.  Time to order your discount jewelry or liquor or ship souvenirs.  Time to pack your bags and try to figure out how to cram all the crap you bought into one suitcase. 

Mexican Train
One of the many bars
Another fancy dessert

Baked Alaska

It turns out they don't like you taking pictures of their pictures.  

Anybody need directions?
Fun with towels

Home at last
It was a really great run.  One of my bucket list items checked off.  Saw a lot, did a lot.  Didn't think I would enjoy 10 solid days on a boat, but this one worked out very well.  Would definitely recommend it to anyone willing to make the journey.  Sorry for the massive number of pictures I posted, but, honestly, I have been culling through the roughly 2400 pictures I took over the past 10 days.  A lot of crappy, out of focus, out of frame, poorly lit, what the hell was I aiming at shots but, occasionally one or two will make the cut.  I may post up a montage of all the towel critters over the trek.  

Time to remember where we parked.  Time to get back to reality.  Time to pick up the dogs (hope they still remember us).   

10 December 2012

Costa Rica

It's a jungle out there.  Literally.  

After a whirlwind tour of the Panama Canal, we moved up the coast to our final port of call, Puerto Limon.  Not really a tourist town, it's more of an industrial port.  Docking there did allow many people to go ashore to explore some of the natural wonders Costa Rica has to offer.  Costa Rica is know for its lush tropical landscape and rain forests.  Several of the shore excursions would have you exploring the rain forest or zip lining through the jungle or kayaking or visit a banana plantation or a butterfly farm or tour the Tortuguero Canals. 

I was hoping to try the zip line run - zipping under the rain forest canopy from platform to platform (12 total) with longest one running 270 yards but that trek filled up early (teachable moment:  if you think you want to do a trek, sign up early).  Instead, I opted to go with my dad and one brother for a tour of the rain forest via an aerial tramway.  Excellent, laid back way to see the rain forest up close and personal.  The tramway was a ski lift kind of rig with a basket for riders to glide through the forest silently as you took in the sights and sounds.  About 2k long, the outbound trek takes you at the level of the forest floor - down in the plants and bushes.  You glide along with an incredibly close look at the flora and fauna of a real live rain forest.  The return trip has you up in the treetops - just inside the canopy.  There were thousands of different plants and trees - it boggles the mind trying to take it all in.  There is an opportunity to view a lot of wildlife (toucans, howler monkeys, snakes, etc.) but we did not see much (one viper and a pair of toucans).  Those pesky animals just didn't want to show up for the show.  After the tram ride, we did a hike through the forest to get a guided tour and explanation of life in a rain forest.  After the tour, we had a authentic Costa Rican lunch complete with heart of palm and plantains.  For a rain forest we expected to get drenched but we got lucky and it only rained on us during the bus ride back to the boat.  The only downside for the trip was the 2 hour bus ride to get to/from the rain forest.  

This was probably one of the more exotic of our Caribbean destinations.  The country has an amazing and diverse ecosystem, with very unique and friendly people. The one main road out of Puerto Limon seemed like the entire country is driving on it (at the same time) so it was packed.  Lots of buses and mopeds traffic.     

And, of course, the most things are way cheaper  than it is back home. 

After another 2 hour bus ride, we made it back to the boat for another fabulous 4 course meal and world class entertainment and our journey back to Florida.